Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

021113_darinrufdelmonyoungdombrownusatriple.jpg

Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines facing this club in camp.

Part 1 – Health

Part 2 – New faces

Part 3 – Charlie Manuel’s future

Part 4 – Young prospects

Part 5 – Defense

Today – Competition for jobs

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Though many of the core spots in the lineup and on the pitching staff are filled, there will be some competition for jobs in this Phillies spring training camp.

A host of candidates will vie for what looks like just three openings in the bullpen. Actually there might only be two openings because team officials were very pleased with the work of Jeremy Horst last season and he could have an inside track on being the second lefty in the bullpen, joining Antonio Bastardo. In addition to Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Chad Durbin are set in the bullpen.

Relievers who will compete for jobs in the bullpen include Mike Stutes, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Juan Cruz and others. We took a look at the bullpen situation a few days ago (see story).

Though newcomer John Lannan comes into camp with a competitor’s attitude -- he says he must win a job -- he lines up to be the fifth starter behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick. Barring injury, the rotation is set.

In addition to the bullpen, much of the competition for jobs will come in the outfield and on the bench.

The Phils figure to keep five outfielders. Ben Revere is a lock in centerfield. Laynce Nix might have a leg up on a job because he’d bring some lefthanded pop off the bench. John Mayberry Jr. seems to have a good chance of making the club because of his versatility and ability to hit lefthanded pitching. Without Mayberry, the Phils would scramble for help in centerfield if Revere went down. Mayberry plays both corner outfield spots and first base. He would have some value on this team’s bench.

Using this admittedly loose blueprint -- things can change quickly with a trade or an injury -- the Phils would seem to have two open outfield spots with three main contestants. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he hopes newcomer Delmon Young becomes the team’s everyday rightfielder not too long after opening day. (Young could be slowed early in camp as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery.)

Despite his hope to have Young’s bat in the lineup, Amaro warns: “He’s going to have to show us he can do it.” The GM was talking about Young’s ability to play rightfield, a position he has not played since 2007.

Young will be given every chance to do that once he’s cleared to play in games. That could come around mid-March. If Young can’t handle the job, Mayberry, Nix and Domonic Brown would all be in the picture there.

Coming into camp, however, Brown is expected to take part in what could be the spring’s best competition, a battle for the leftfield job, or maybe a slice of it, with Darin Ruf. It’s not out of the question that these two could form a platoon. That would force some adjustment of other outfield personnel.

Phillies officials aren’t under pressure to employ a Brown-Ruf platoon. Both players have minor-league options and can be sent to Triple A for more seasoning.

This isn’t Brown’s first spring tryout. Two years ago, he got off to a slow start then broke a bone in his hand as he lost the rightfield job to Ben Francisco. Francisco is a reminder that jobs can be won in spring training, but lost when the games count. His inability to lock down the job during the season led to the acquisition of Hunter Pence. Last year, Brown got a look in big-league camp, but club officials were committed to starting him at Triple A so he could continue his development.

Brown was a hot story in camp a couple of years ago. He’s been replaced as this year’s hot story by Ruf, who slugged his way from non-prospect to the major leagues in 2012. Ruf, 26, is a lifelong first baseman trying to make the conversion to leftfield. He made 29 starts at the position in Double A last season and six more in the majors in September. In the fall, he played the position in Venezuela, where he bashed 10 home runs to raise his total for the calendar year to 52. If Ruf hits, he will be difficult to keep off the team. Same for Brown, actually. That could be a nice competition to follow.

“There’s going to be some battling,” Amaro said. “We’re going to watch them closely. At some point they have to take the reins and let them decide for us whether they can do it.”

Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, a speedy 22-year-old Venezuelan, is an outside candidate to win a spot in the outfield. Reports on his defense are good and that could enhance his chances if team officials believe they need an extra late-game defensive reinforcement.

In putting together their reserve infield corps, Phillies officials will have to decide whether to keep sure-handed Freddy Galvis or send him to the minors for regular playing time and at-bats. With an aging infield and a defensive question mark in Michael Young at third base, it’s not difficult to imagine team officials opting to keep Galvis in the majors, where he could help at three spots. Kevin Frandsen appears ticketed for a bench job, but veterans such as Yuniesky Betancourt and Pete Orr will also get looks.

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.